The story of Lady Grace Kilmichael and Nicholas Humphies meeting and travelling down and around the Dalmation coast (modern day Croatia) has been gushed profusely about by Book Snob...and well deservedly. Ann Bridge wrote such beautiful and discriptive prose in 'Illyrian Spring' I was near dropping everything to board a luxury liner in Venice en route to Dalmatia.
Which is how Lady Kilmichael and Nicholas met. Lady Kilmichael, later in life (late 30's?...not that late!) found her self with a successful career as an artist, which as she believed got under the skin of her husband. To escape the disapproval of what she feels is everyone in her family, she boards a train to Venice to take a trip by liner to Ragusa (Italian for Dubrovnik). As I read of the apprehension and excitement of her trip, my heart honestly fluttered with excitement...as this was in one of the first 10 pages, I think Ms. Bridge has conquered a feat of emotions! While in Venice, Grace and Nicholas meet while sketching and he finds it his duty to help her while she struggles on a complex pattern. Little does he know she is the Great Grace Stanway. They separate later without sharing names, not knowing they will meet again.
But meet again they do! On board the liner to Dubrovnik, no less. There we find out that Nicholas is a student of architecture, but desperately would like to be a painter. Grace, without revealing her fame, says she will take him under her wing in hopes that he can independantly support himself as a young artist. The rest I leave to you, dear readers. Their journey on the Adriatic coastline is one that should not be missed.
This book is a rare beauty, and by rare I mean their was one in the entire state library system, it did't even have a call number and was in storage. Rachel continues to bring it into our awareness, and I've quickly joined her cause. Let's rally together and get it republished!
I'll leave you with one example of Ann Bridge's descriptive prose -and proof she is just as much an artist as Grace- where after leaving Ragusa, Grace finds a small town, with a small house in which she asks to stay and paint...
The last house stood right on the fondamento, withing a few feet of the water. A dark-haired woman, whom they took to be the Signora Orlando, responded to their knock, and, readily promising coffee, led them round to a garden at the side of the house, where little tables stood on the raked gravel, under trellises of roses and vines supported by small stone pillars. Oleanders and pomegranates stood in groups about the garden; the flower beds were fragrant with stocks and brilliant with snap dragons; further away from the house, grass paths ran between pergolas of ramblers; a high hedge enclosed the whole. Somewhere close by nightingales were singing; loud, sweet, and fervent as the sunshine, their song filled the air like a clear light made audible.
And, drinking her coffee, again Grace thought - what a divine place to stay! If the Signora had a room or two, and would agree, what could be more perfect?
Ps...how great are all these 1920's and 30's posters for Croatia? I feel like Grace would have been looking at them as she booked her passage!